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Women angels help businesses take off

Many business angels choose a hands-on role. imagepoint

Business angels are coming to the rescue of start-up companies across Switzerland – providing crucial funds and expertise.

This content was published on June 23, 2006 - 08:01

But while the number of these private investors is growing, women are still underrepresented in the ranks.

At a recent seminar in Zurich high-flying businesswomen were encouraged to become involved in early-stage investment, sharing their money, knowledge and experience with those still trying to get off the ground.

The seminar – the first of its kind in Switzerland – was chaired by veteran angel Brigitte Baumann, who radiates passion for early-stage investing.

"Business angel" is a term applied to an individual who backs companies with their own cash for a limited period. The sums provided are usually quite modest – in Switzerland most investors contribute no more than SFr250,000 ($204,000) per year.

Among the most common reasons given for involvement are enjoyment and a wish to support a young company. While most look for a return on their investment, for some the experience is enough.

A research paper published by Martin Riffelmacher of the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich earlier this year estimated that just five per cent of Swiss angels are women – a figure that corresponds to the European norm.

Learning to fly

Baumann believes it's time to get more women on board. Her early-stage financing firm Go Beyond is offering coaching to those interested in taking the leap.

"Being an angel investor is a fantastic opportunity for women in Switzerland because it's very practical experience," she enthused. "At the same time there is a flexibility over how much time is involved.

"It's perfect for someone who has been a career woman for ten to 15 years and has SFr20,000, SFr50,000 or SFr100,000 to invest over a few years but doesn't want to be too busy. And it's a great way to advance because you often invest in things ahead of trends."

One current trend is towards healthier eating, and Noppa AG is a company well placed to take advantage of that.

Noppa Helbling is also a woman with a passion – in her case for soya. Two years ago the Chinese national and her Swiss husband Jörg went into business preparing tofu specialities for the Zurich market.

Now they're looking to introduce their products to a wider public.

"Swiss people are quite sensitive about what they eat, they're prepared to reform their eating habits, so there's a big potential for soya," Noppa Hebling is convinced.

Their ambitious expansion plans mean Noppa needs around SFr600,000 in new capital. Now they're looking for a few business angels who share their belief in the health benefits of tofu to join the venture.

Brigitte Baumann too has ambitious plans to develop: "If I get enough people interested I will definitely start a women's angel network in Switzerland."

swissinfo, Morven McLean

Key facts

There are an estimated 250,000 business angels in the US.
The number in Europe is closer to 50,000.
In Switzerland around 300 angels belong to networks, with around 1,500 independent investors.
Women make up 5% of business angels in Europe.

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In brief

A business angel is a private individual who invests in dynamic young companies contributing, in addition to capital, professional know-how and a network of contacts.

Although the term is relatively new, the concept is not. In Switzerland, a number of successful companies were founded thanks to private investors, including the Moevenpick restaurant chain in 1948. And entrepreneur Walter Boveri founded Brown, Boveri & Cie in 1891 using start-up financing that he received from the Conrad Baumann, a silk tycoon from Zurich.

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